Saturday, January 31, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Saturday: Favorite Fandom Accessories

Originally I thought I would have to pass on this 5 Fandom Friday because wearing my fandom isn't really my thing. But then I realized: I have all kinds of weird shit from Asia. Considering how much Japan is tied in with fandom, I decided this prompt would be a good time to show off the little bits and baubles I have that I would otherwise never talk about!

The reason I have so much weird shit from Asia is because I lived and taught in South Korea for two years and change. I did bring home some great stuff with me, but most of the things I have on hand are from care packages sent by my friend Breda, a fellow NEST (native English speaker/speaking teacher) who has graduated to a grown-up non-teaching job in Seoul.

1. Cute stationery 

One of my favorite stores in South Korea was Daiso (okay, actually a Japanese chain). It's basically a dollar store, but without that sense of dread and despair that hangs over most dollar stores in the US. Every store I visited was light, well-lit, clean, organized, and attractive.

There was one on my way home from work at one of my schools and I liked to stop by and pick through the notebooks. I had quite a few by the end of it but a lot of them were small and went missing pretty easily. Breda understands my love of cute-weird Korean notebooks and usually sends one whenever she sends a package. The bottom two here are Korean; the top one (with the peas) is Japanese. It has one of those holographic covers and it's what I use for my jewelry references: digits of different numbers (out to a ridiculous place), plans and designs for more complicated pieces, etc.

The "Hi, hobo." notebook is what I use to keep track of my library "to-reads"; which books are available at which branch and which ones aren't available at all, etc.

The bunnies one is the newest—I just got it last week or so—and I'm not entirely sure what I want to use it for yet.

2. T-shirts

Okay, a quick break from the Japanese/Korean stuff to the only proper fandom-ish things I have: my extensive t-shirt collection. Not pictured is a Batman t-shirt (an actual DC-licensed t-shirt in a Korean department store....pretty surprising, considering how often IP infringement/theft happens over there), a Snakes on a Plane shirt, and an MST3K sweatshirt. Sure, t-shirts are apparel, not an accessory, but I needed to hit five! Plus, t-shirts are the best.

I just pulled out this one here because it's probably my favorite. It's funny on its own, for one, and it's also an item from one of my favorite webcomics, the supremely underrated and underappreciated Cat and Girl.

3. Japanese melon wallet/change purse

We're back to the cute/weird Asian stuff again. Breda takes a lot of trips to Japan, so many that I joke she should get one of those punch cards. The tenth trip is free!

This is from a time when she went to somewhere famous for melons. She included melon-flavored gummy candy in this package as well, but it's not pictured since that package was a while ago and we ate all of it in two days.

4. Hello Kitty nail decals

These are super cute (and officially licensed by Sanrio!) but I have such tiny nail beds (pictured) that I'm afraid they won't come out well. Most of the stickers are really far too wide. Instead, I'm happy to have them hanging on my wall, as a pick-me-up/reminder that I have friends.

5. Cute/fandom-ish socks

Korea (and Japan too, from what I've heard) is basically the sock capital of the world. There are so many fun or bizarre designs available that you can't help buying a pair or two whenever you're out.

At the farmer's market where I grew up in the states, there was one stall called "Sock City" that was nothing but socks. The idea of a socks-only store seemed weird to me back then, but after being in Korea the concept made total sense. There were trucks that would drive around and park somewhere for a day or two just selling a billion different kinds of socks. I was not surprised when I returned to "Sock City" as an adult in need of socks and saw that they were all made in Korea. /csb

This represents maybe two-thirds of the cute socks I've gotten from Breda—there are a couple in the wash or that I couldn't otherwise scrounge up. Note the totally unlicensed Star Wars and RoboCop socks (on the left and right, respectively). The middle ones are just cute designs and not any kind of recurring character. Also, the gray sock immediately next to the Star Wars sock has a sticky-outy tail sewn on, in case the picture doesn't make that clear. The bottom of his shoe says "nice," so put together with his hat it says B NICE. And the pig next to him is drinking beer, and it even says "Beer ♥".

I don't know why Korea and Japan excel at having such cute little foot cozies and the US doesn't. Is it because school uniforms are much more prevalent and socks are the few ways students get to express themselves? Is it because people in the US and other Western countries are more prone to wearing shoes indoors? 

Anyway, that wraps up my 5 Fandom Friday! What cute/weird/foreign stuff have you received in a care package?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Wolf in the Fold

#40: The Wolf in the Fold

In case you forgot: A murder mystery with Scotty at center stage (spoiler: he's innocent) leads to Jack the Ripper taking over the Enterprise's computers. McCoy drugs everyone up, Spock gets Jack the Ripper out of the computer by asking it to calculate pi to the last digit, and then they beam it into space.

A creepy alien entity taking over the ship's computer is a cool idea, especially as the entity we're talking about is a disembodied entity and not some human with godlike psychic powers that, at the end of the day, is still within the realm of our understanding. Sure, it comes down as another "man versus COM-PYOO-TOR" trope, as we've seen in other episodes on this list and will continue to see, but the idea actually works pretty well for me because this one doesn't preach the inherent superiority of humans when it comes to whatever; it's just about troubleshooting what is understood to be a necessary and overall beneficial piece of technology.

As for murder mystery in your science fiction, you can take it or leave it. Personally, I'll take it—whodunnit habits die hard—but this is not the world's best genre crossover episode. (That award goes, for TOS, to "The Conscience of a King.") Heck, even "Court Martial," which even harps on the "man versus COM-PYOO-TOR" theme as well, has a much more coherent and organized story while weaving in elements of the classic court procedural.

Coherence. Organization. Those are really the biggest problems with this episode. It's a human centipede of a story. Like Zack Handlen wrote over at The A.V. Club,
[i]t's like Bloch wrote the first couple acts, went out for some drinks, and came back six months later and finished the script without bothering to reread what he'd already got down.
Because by the second half or so, we are out of the Space Murder, She Space-Wrote field entirely and back into solid Monster of the Week territory. Both are solid ideas (murder! in! space! and the ghost in the machine) and both really should have had their full 50 minutes of treatment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What I'm Playing: Long Live the Queen

This is the third and final game in my Steam library (so far). And despite how much I love Papers, Please, it's Long Live the Queen that's seen the most play. That is not to say that it is a better game than any of the other two, or that it's more fun. No. If anything, it's the opposite: it's by far the most frustrating.

Long Live the Queen is a game in the "visual novel" genre, meaning that instead of real-time button mashing or platforming, you make narrative and strategic choices that lead to a variety of outcomes. Here, you must decide which subjects to study, which outfits to wear, and which weekend activities to participate in. This is all building towards skill checks that happen on most weeks. You win or lose the game by passing or failing certain skill checks. Do you have enough magical ability to burn a would-be dueler to ashes, or enough training in swordplay to dispatch him mundanely? Or did you solve an earlier crisis in a such a way that he never finds a reason to fight you in the first place?

So that is the gameplay: there is none as such, just a whole lot of numbers-running, planning, and strategizing, I have no idea how typical this is for a visual novel game because it's the first in the genre I've ever played (next on my list is Hatoful Boyfriend), so bear that in mind when I say:

you are so fucked.

You will not win the game on your first run-through. You will almost certainly meet with an untimely death in the 40 weeks until your coronation. Almost immediately you are faced with an onslaught of skill checks of varying levels of importance. Some don't matter at all; others open up new story choices. Sometimes success or failure is a matter of life and death. Naturally, this the kind of game you replay over and over again.

I mentioned when I talked about The Novelist that I'm Queen Metagamer Optimizer Extraordinaire. If that tendency kept me from getting immersed in the world of The Novelist, it is exactly what I needed to enjoy Long Live the Queen. After I died and realized what kind of game this was going to be, I went into hardcore "spade" mode (as we'd say in Kingdom of Loathing....any Pastamancers or Seal Clubbers out there?) and dove into the Wiki and combed Google for walkthroughs and strategy tips.

Some of you, if you are geekier/more hardcore than I am, might think to yourself right away, "Ah hah! It's another Princess Maker!" That was JV's first reaction, certainly. I never played any of the Princess Maker games, but from what I've heard from other people: no, no way in hell. There is no min-maxing. There isn't enough time to train all of your skills up to an even mediocre level. It is a game full of hard choices and not enough time.

That is why I find it so compulsively playable. (I'm able to sit down and write a review right now because I've managed to talk myself into a break after achieving a pretty good ending.) It is hard and yet not so hard that it seems impossible. It is almost-possible and that's what keeps me coming back for more. But more on that later.

You will not be able to succeed at this game (whatever your definition of "succeed" is, because you can go a variety of different ways), you will need to take a copious amount of notes (or take advantage of the list of weekly events and skill checks on the game's Wiki) and decide which tests you must pass and which ones you can comfortably fail.

I swing back and forth between "it's really fun" and "it's just too much" because of that almost-possible nature of it. On the one hand, this line from The Princess Bride is pretty apropos:

On the other hand, I'm not playing a mahou shojou anime visual novel for its realism. Besides, much of the difficulty stems (in my opinion) not from legitimate strategizing but the arbitrary boundaries of the game. When that happens, it's not a fun challenge, but just a hopeless one.

You take two classes every week. There are a ridiculous number of them; there are already a ridiculous number of fields of study (History, Intrigue, Lumen, Faith, Weapons, etc.) and then each of those fields has 3 different classes (History: World History, Novan History, Foreign Affairs; Intrigue: Internal Affairs, Foreign Intelligence, Ciphering....and on it goes). Each class corresponds to a skill, so that taking a class in "Foreign Affairs" increases your Foreign Affairs ability by anywhere from 5 to 10 points (more on that in a second).

Some of these classes are far, far more useful than others. This is not a situation where having trade and economic savvy is going to benefit you as much as knowing how to suck up to the nobles. (As that disparity in scores in the above screenshot might suggest.) Perhaps that's asking for an overly complicated game—to have a whole shitload of skills and not have one set dramatically more or less useful than everything else—but then why not just cut the useless skills entirely?

Sometimes you have a skill that is useless for 90% of the game, but then suddenly you need something like 90 or 100 points in it to pass an essential check or unlock another option, and that just seems unfair: the game has indicated to you, up until now, that there were far more important things to focus on, and suddenly you're blindsided with a high-level "singing" check. Um?

All of these complaints would be more or less irrelevant if the training system itself were different. To get any skill all the way to 100, you need to get its other two classes (which are often quite useless) up to at least 25. So in addition to the ~10 classes you need to train up that skill (assuming no mood penalties or bonuses), you need to spend ~6 ones dumping a paltry amount of points in skills you'll never actually need. Time spent in those useless classes can really add up, preventing you from training other, more important skills in other classes. For example: out of the "Faith" category you see up there, only Divination is well and truly useful. Those points in Meditation and Lore would probably do you a lot better in Foreign Affairs and Foreign Intelligence.

And yes, there are mood penalties and bonuses when it comes to your studies. I don't mind this; it adds another level of strategy. You can engage in weekend activities that will alter your mood, but events that happen during the week will mess with your mood as well. It's kind of a cheap shot in gameplay, but hey, that's how real life works so I can roll with the punches. What isn't fair is not knowing how your choices to events will affect your mood until you select them. It's not coddling the player to tell them that arresting the Lumen witch will make you angry, but that sending her away will only make you more yielding; it's vital information to managing your moods and, more importantly, it seems like information Elodie (the princess in question) would know. (As opposed to random news about a great hairy beast eating people in a forest somewhere; she's not a precog but of course she would know her own feelings about her actions!) You get to know the mood effects on (most) weekend activities beforehand, so why not these events during the week?

Why all this talk about managing moods? Because moods are important. They dictate, especially in the beginning, how well or poorly you do in certain classes. When your predominant mood is "yielding," for example, you get a bonus to the all-important "Royal Demeanor" class of skills. If you're in the right mood, you can get a skill to level 30 in 2 classes of 15 points each instead of 3 classes of 10 points each, and that often is the difference between passing a skill check by the skin of your teeth and failing utterly.

So, given all of that: I have no idea if this is how visual novel games are supposed to be. Maybe they are supposed to be this hard and metagame-y and close-shavey, in which case: well done and the genre isn't for me (except when it is, in great binge-y doses). Otherwise it needs some serious recalibration when it comes to the design to really be fun while also feeling fair.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Intersection of Math and Art

Say hello to the Harniss spiral, a design based on the Golden Ratio. Isn't it elegant? The first iteration would be a great pendant; with some small changes it would be a great design for a chain bracelet: a whole series of interlocking spirals. Unfortunately, those ideas are going to have to wait until I have more time/space/money to work with metal.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Trek Thursday: Return of the Archons

#41: Return of the Archons

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is investigating the disappearance of the starship Archon over Beta III. Turns out Beta III is being run by a computer named Landru and he assimilated the Archons into his collective consciousness party, like a prototype Borg. Kirk saves the day with some good old-fashioned logic.

This episode has a pretty solid opening. The lawgivers and their Grim Reaper style hoods are striking, and the "festival" is a really juicy mystery. What is it? Why do people have to participate? Is it a compulsory kind of participation that they can't help? Is it coerced, or maybe even voluntary?  Why are older people like Reger exempt? Never mind the weird unison with which the locals turn against Kirk and company, picking up their weapons at the same time and slowly advancing. They're a zombie horde without being zombies.

Moreover, this episode is a great example of set reuse (possible costume reuse?) done really well. They don't fuck around with anything like "oh it's an alternate Earth!" or "oh it's Space Nazis!"; rather, it comes across as an entirely believable alternate human civilization; the fact that everyone is SO FUCKING WEIRD makes the fact that they look like extras in a gangster film irrelevant. If anything, the understated costumes makes the Beta III locals even creepier because there is such a jar between what you expect a "regular" Earth human to do (as opposed to a green-skinned space babe in huts or tipi or whatever) and what they're doing.

You see, then, that this episode could have been great. I really cannot overstate how great the pacing is and how juicy the mystery is over basically the whole first act. But when it takes all that good stuff and just pisses it away in favor of Kirk out-braining a computer, it's so disappointing.

All of the questions the episode poses in the first half  never get answered in the second half. This episode is everything I hated about LOST, only in Star Trek. If the episode had stayed on track, it would have been one of the greatest ones, easily.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stash-Busting Pi Stackables

After my "twine-and-button" period, I sat down and threw together some memory wire bracelets:

All are pi.
I love memory wire, and sometimes when I love something I put off doing it because I feel like I don't deserve to do something I like? I don't know. All I know is that these bracelets are the first memory wire stackables I've made in over a year.

I love these little guys. They are a great sort of "mix-and-match" (though if they're pi bracelets, does that make them "mix-and-math"?) item. Wear them alone, punch them up with a plain chain bracelet or metal bangle, or make them part of a huge, eclectic boho look.

Note that I would not recommend using only memory wire bangles for that look, unless you have exceptionally skinny forearms.

They're fun to wear and they're fun to make, too. In particular, they're great for cleaning out the dregs of a bead supply. That green bracelet, for example: I was working on it when one of the round, lighter beads fell. JV and I looked for a while but couldn't find it, so I shrugged and continued. What are the odds I'll need it? I thought.

Turned out that I needed it.

I refused to let my frustration get the best of me, I snipped the end of the memory wire, taped it up so nothing would slide off, and sifted through my bead box to see what else I could use up. I ended up making that blue and yellow one you see above, and while fishing the blue beads (they are fiber optic glass, by the way) out from the chaos of a box that didn't quite survive international transport, I found one single light green bead.

SATISFACTION. And also: cool story, bro.

I still have plenty more beads to clear out, though. I need to make room for more Czech glass beads in my life. Which color combo do you like best out of the above? What do you usually wear? Your answers will help me think outside my bead box and come up with combinations I wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Baby Steps in Crochet and Preparing for Alzheimer's

Crochet has always been "that thing that Lawyer Mom can do that I don't understand." Or it was, until now!

As a small child I wanted to be able to do the things that Mom could do, as most kids probably try to emulate their parents. I took to piano easily. Crochet? Not so much. I got as far as just doing endless, endless chain stitches but when it came to moving from that into an actual thing I just couldn't grasp the concept. I ended up turning an entire skein of Red Heart yarn (it was a "baby afghan" colored yarn, pink and blue and white) into one long chain stitch, and then using the resulting snake as some kind of extra heavy yarn and chain stitching that into oblivion. I have no idea what happened to that monstrosity or if I even finished it.

All of that is to say I finally figured out how to crochet. Kind of. So I present a project that 10-year-old me would have been proud of:

I'm not sure if this is a direction I want to take officially take with Kokoba. Not potholders, obviously; apparel is more labor-intensive but it's probably also a much better seller.

Old age, dementia, and Alzheimer's are things that worry me. As I might have mentioned in relation to my thoughts on 23andMe, I know I have a copy of the APOE4 gene, elevating my risk of contracting Alzheimer's. I say "elevating my risk" but truthfully the odds are still against it (the risk is like 13% instead of 7%). Even with Alzheimer's out of the picture there's always the possibility of dementia and there's no report for that on 23andMe.

Long story short, I worry about these things and what will happen to my brain and my mind as I age. There's no way to know until you're in the thick of things. Watching this TED talk (yes, a TED talk, I know, but this one is good except really they should have gotten her a podium or a chair or something) got me thinking about my hobbies and what is familiar to me. What are my hands used to doing?

Piano, for one. According to JV I even play in my sleep on occasion. But if I end up in a home or a care facility, I'm certainly not going to have room for a piano of my own.

Viking knit, for another. That is smaller, portable, silent (no chance of bothering a roommate or anyone else), but handling fine-gauge wire in old age might not go so well. Though, again, if 23andMe is to be believed, I'm at a reduced risk both for rheumatoid arthritis and macular degeneration: good news for working with small crafts!

Still, pliers and wire snips might not go over so well in a care facility. Plus, as I've discovered, it's much easier to find "fiber arts" supplies on a daily basis than it is jewelry. I can go to the varuhus (department store? I guess? it's more than a grocery store but less than something like Target or WalMart) in the first floor of our building and find a wide assortment of yarn (mostly acrylic, which will have yarn snobs poo-pooing, but you can find wool as well), crochet hooks, knitting needles, and patterns. Beads? Wire? Findings? Only available at a couple of craft stores and even then of a questionable quality.

I will keep this up, maybe until we're drowning in crappy little pot holders, but you need to learn to walk before you can run, amirite?

Friday, January 16, 2015

January Read Play Blog: What I'm Looking Forward to in 2015

Today is one of those times where 5 Fandom Friday and Read Play Blog overlap, but I'm skipping 5 Fandom Friday this week. Cons aren't really my scene, so I wouldn't really have any good answers!

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence Books & Read Me Away.

Today's Read Play Blog question is: What games are you looking forward to in 2015?

Truth be told, none. At least in terms of new releases. I don't keep track of video game releases at all, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is that after a 2+ year dry spell, I am way behind. Case in point: it's 2015 now (holy crap!!) and I still haven't finished Fallout 3, Ni no Kuni, or Demon's Souls. There's a long, long queue of games in JV's collection I need to get to—I don't have time for new releases!

The other, lesser reason is that I simply don't have the discretionary funds for new games right on release. Fortunately, thanks to the fact that I'm immensely far behind in the gaming world, this doesn't bug me as much as it might otherwise.

What I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to play for the first time in 2015 is a different story, though! There are two on the top of my list: Fez and Thomas Was Alone. And while I may have finally been a late convert to Steam, both of those games are unavailable on Linux! They are, at least, available on PS3, so when I clear up some space in my gaming queue I can add them to it.

I was not one of the people clamoring on the Internet for Fez after Phil Fish initially previewed it in 2007 or whenever. The name was familiar to me, in that sort of Internet osmosis way that anything tangentially related to what you're interested in eventually becomes familiar to you, but I didn't know anything about it except that people hated Fish. I didn't see any of the game in detail until JV and I watched Indie Game: The Movie, and I decided that it looked really lighthearted and fun and challenging.

I don't know how I came across Thomas Was Alone. I think it was a blog I follow, or maybe a video review JV was watching? But I live for that puzzle shit, and I love how understated and unique the whole look is. It takes a lot of creativity to make an entire game just out of a few shapes!


I mean, I already wrote a lot of words on this, but I think everyone should at least try Papers, Please, no matter what kind of genre preferences they have. That said, it's a game that I think dystopian aficionados in particular will enjoy. Are you a fan of 1984? Franz Kafka? This game is for you.

Currently Playing

But what currently has the bulk of my attention is this ridiculously ~super kawaii desu ne~~ visual novel game, Long Live the Queen. One of my friends called it "that anime murder sim" and gave me some friendly shit for spending so much time on it, but I can't help it! I have too many thoughts on it to go into detail here, except to say that it appeals to that inner optimizer I talked about with The Novelist

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Trek Thursday: Patterns of Force

#42. Patterns of Force

In case you forgot: The infamous SPACE NAZIS episode! A Federation officer sent to "observe" has meddled in the development of a society and made them all Nazis, with a stand-in Jewish race to boot. The situation has spiraled well out of his control and it's up to Kirk and company to save the day.

Yet another example of Starfleet and the Federation doing more harm in the galaxy than good. You have to wonder: what is the net "moral worth" of Starfleet in this universe? Half the time Kirk and company are either solving problems someone else in the fleet has made; the other half they're making problems and then being nice enough to tidy up the lose ends in under an hour.

This is why the Prime Directive is so important you guys, otherwise we end up with Space Nazis.

 I appreciate that we're not in "parallel Earth" territory—someone from Earth deliberately interfered and made things this way, something about a strong and efficient government rescuing a people in economic and social shambles—but I mean...Nazis? I don't mind brutal totalitarian regimes in my science fiction, even with a good dollop of race hatred, but certainly a more elegant stand-in can be created than Seig Heils and swastikas? Sure this was written in a pre-Godwin environment, where the nightmares of the Holocaust were still brutally fresh, but what makes for good dramatic catharsis in the 60s doesn't always age well. Which is too bad, because with a little more understatement, this episode could have been one of the best in the entire series.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What I Played: The Novelist

It's begun, you guys. I've become addicted to PC gaming. Dammit, Steam!

Some games I can only play for a short while before I need a break (I've still only only gotten to one ending in Papers, Please despite owning it the longest), and some games I would gladly play ALL DAY.

But the game I want to talk about today is neither of those. Like all of the games I've bought and played so far on Steam, it's story-heavy, and not reliant on "playing" but rather choices: The Novelist.

You are a ghost. You haunt a rental house, and this summer the Kaplans are coming for a long summer getaway. Dan Kaplan, the father, is a novelist struggling with his sophomore book. It's put a strain on his marriage with Linda, herself an artist, and kept him distant from his son Tommy. Your job as the ghost is manage this family's dreams and relationships. Whether you destroy them or nurture them is up to you.

 You can learn about them by reading their thoughts, snooping in their correspondence, and investigating their memories. When you know what everyone wants, you influence the next day's actions by whispering suggestions to Dan at night.

On its surface, the game looks simple: it's only 9 chapters long and action is limited to the rental house. That's not really a whole lot of choices to make. But under the surface it's incredibly complex. There are over 100 different individual scenes creator Kent Hudson had to create, each reflecting not only the choice and compromise you made in this chapter, but also the previous chapters.

It's also the kind of thing that has a special appeal for me; as a writer and creative person in general, I can find it hard to balance my creativity and passions with other important things, like my relationship and my health. If you've ever done NaNoWriMo, Script Frenzy, or the 30 Characters in 30 Days challenge, you've experienced that tension yourself. I was curious about how the story would unfold and how much Dan Kaplan's life would mirror my own.

There are two modes: "story" (the family is incapable of noticing you, so you can move around as freely as you like) and "stealth" (the family is capable of noticing you, so you have to be sneaky and possess different light sources and stay out of their line of vision). I didn't want to have to stress about being seen in addition to collecting all the clues and making the right decisions on my first playthrough, so I chose story mode.

Ideally, you should play the game without metagaming or strategizing—the experience Hudson was going for. Unfortunately metagaming, strategizing, and optimizing is exactly what I like about gaming, and I didn't lose myself in the story so much as metagame it: "Just stagger it so that everyone has equal wins, compromises, and losses, and you'll get the best possible ending." I'm glad the game received such rave and enthusiastic reviews, but personally I was incapable of getting as immersed as other gamers and reviewers apparently did, so I probably didn't enjoy it as much.

Instead, what I did find quite arresting (and wanted to see more of) was the house's backstory. You get glimpses here and there—ghostly journal entries and correspondence from residents who lived there years ago appear at night—but the focus of the game is heavily tilted towards the Kaplans.

I only have two issues. First, there are no save slots; it's impossible to go back and undo a decision, so you either have to see the consequences of a bad or mistaken decision through to the end, or you have to start over from scratch. And, yes, I did make a decision by accident. It's my own damn fault, but it was frustrating that I had no means of undoing it. However, the game is so short that this is hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

Secondly, for such a simple game it seems quite resource-heavy. It has the longest load time of any of my other steam games, and it seems like my computer (quite new, though not built to be a ~gaming PC~) really strains to run it at times.

I don't know if I got the best possible ending, but I got a pretty good one. I'm not sure how much I want to go back and replay for other endings, because those other endings mean something going wrong for someone, whether it's Linda or Dan or Tommy. Since there's no in-game checklist of possible endings, I don't really have any desire to go back and get some of the worse ones "just because."

I appreciate the crazy level of thought, detail, and design that went into this game, though. If you don't check any of the other links in this entry, you need to read the last one, especially if you're interested in game design. I'll even include the link again for convenience's sake. This is like the Fred Astaire of games: a lot of work and sweat and focus to make a final product that looks easy and effortless.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Birthstones: Bloodstone (March)

If you're a March baby and aquamarine isn't really your bag, you can claim bloodstone instead! It was once known as heliotrope, but these days heliotrope is more associated with the pinkish-purple flower than the green and red mineral.

I've finished the entire "modern" list of birthstones. But there are so many more left! There's the earlier Kansas City list, the British Goldsmiths' list, and the original Tiffany & Co. list to go through, not to mention astrological associations. First, though, we'll finish up both of the Kansas City lists.
Who in this world of ours their eyes
In March first open shall be wise,
In days of peril firm and brave,
And wear a bloodstone to their grave.

The old name of heliotrope refers to Greco-Roman ideas about the relationship between stones and the sun ("helio" being sun and "trope" being to turn). It's unclear when people started referring to the stone as "blood jasper" and then "bloodstone," but it probably began in the Middle Ages in Europe. As the story goes, the blood from Christ's crucifixion stained green stones that were at his feet, creating the first bloodstone. 

Unsurprisingly, bloodstone was also associated with martyrs as well, sometimes called "martyr's stone." It was a popular choice for gemstone engravings depicting martyrdom or the crucifixion. It was also a popular stone to use for signet rings and seals. 

"Christ at the Column,"  17th Century Italian
Bloodstone is a silicate, like so many other stones, so it is primarily built out of SiO4. The base green color comes from inclusions of chlorite and amphibole within the silicate; both of those minerals are green due to a variety of elements: lithium, magnesium, or iron in conjunction with aluminum and hydrogen. The orange-red flecks of "blood" are due to iron oxides (such as hematite). 


But the association of blood with bloodstone has been around for longer than the Middle Ages. In many cultures, including India and Babylonia, it was believed to stop bleeding and thus was a popular stone for warriors to carry. Likewise it was thought to help with anything related to blood and its circulation, including venomous animal bites and aphrodisiacs.

Bloodstone is lovely but not prohibitively expensive. There are large sources in India, Australia, South Africa, and the US (to name a few), so there isn't much of a market for synthetic or fake bloodstone. However, bloodstone can often resemble jaspers, particularly fancy and ocean jaspers, so there can be improperly identified stones here and there.

Fancy jasper

Ocean jasper

See what I mean?

The difference between them is, arguably, quite fine (on the ontological, philosophical level). The biggest difference is in their formation: jaspers are a sedimentary aggregate of a whole bunch of different things, while chalcedony (which is the mineral group bloodstone belongs to) is primarily a silicate. You can see the difference under a microscope: a jasper is microcrystaline while chalcedony is cryptocrystaline (this means that jasper has a slightly larger crystal structure and doesn't require as much magnification). Bloodstone should always streak a reddish brown in a mineral streak test, whereas a jasper might be brown, or it might be other colors.

Ideally, a bloodstone should be consistently green except for "splatters" here and there of red-orange, though sometimes there are streaks instead. If you are seeing bits of mauve, blue, or purple mixed in, it's likely a form of jasper instead of bloodstone. If it's green but the splatters are more yellow than red, that's known as "plasma." Bloodstone is very rarely color-enhanced, though like other stones it often has a finish that can be damaged by harsh detergents; like other stones, it should be cleaned with warm water.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: My Favorite Things About Winter

This is a prompt I can get behind! Winter might be my favorite season. Sweden has proper winters, at least theoretically; they keep getting warmer due to the effects of climate change. So, while they're still here, a truncated list of why I love (Swedish) winter!

1. Weather that's made up its mind. I like seasons that don't make a bollocks of it; they know what they are and so do you. Winter? It's cold. You can expect it to be cold, or at least below a certain threshold; you don't have to guess about what to wear when you leave the house (if you leave at all, which brings me to #2). 

2. No one judges you for staying inside. I love summer, of course: swimming, my birthday, the endless Swedish days, and of course (for some years of my life, at least) no school. But when it gets nice outside, people judge you for wanting to stay inside out of the heat to read books or play games. In the wintertime, no one really blames you for staying inside. Our apartment is right above a grocery store and a pizza place. The last 6 weeks I've had off from Swedish class have been glorious because I haven't had to venture more than an elevator ride and a short walk in the outdoors.

3. The way that snow-covered trees look. They have the same appeal as fractals or as silicate crystals for me. Order and structure, yet chaos and fragility.

Pascal Terjan
4. Glögg. Or mulled wine. It warms you from the inside out. It usually starts appearing on shelves around the same time as Julmust, but I don't like Julmust half as much.

5. It's cold enough to properly cuddle JV. My boyfriend absolutely radiates heat, which is why we joke about him being Lord Xenu. Okay, the inside joke has a lot of complicated and not particularly funny-to-anyone-else steps, but the point is he has that nickname because he is WARM. Sharing a bed with someone who is WARM in the summer is a challenge, though mostly for JV. (My nickname is "ice cold killah" for reasons more straightforward than the ones behind "Lord Xenu.") In the winter, though, it's the best ever.

What's winter like where you are? Like it, love it, indifferent?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Alternative Factor

#43: The Alternative Factor.

In case you forgot: A madman named Lazarus is determined to be at the center of some weird magnetic nonsense going down. The Enterprise beams him aboard and he tells them that he is in hot pursuit of another person, a creature capable of destroying all life as we know it. Turns out Lazarus is after a parallel version of himself, only the parallel version of himself (Anti-Lazarus, I guess?) isn't really out to destroy anything. He volunteers to stay locked in combat with Lazarus in some safety corridor for all eternity, because if either one of them gets out both universes will be destroyed.

This episode seems to be nearly universally panned by fans, but despite all that I really, properly, almost like it. Hear me out.

The pacing on this episode is different from your standard TOS fare. Usually TOS lays out the problem in its entirety pretty early on and we watch our heroes try to figure out the solution. In "The Alternative Factor" it's clear that for the most part, no one really has any clear idea of what's going on, just some hazy hypotheses about matter and antimatter and a very clearly crazy man running around the Enterprise.

The pathos and drama is played just right, in my opinion; the episode doesn't really sink into melodrama. Lazarus is obviously a seriously unhinged individual and to be trapped with him for the rest of your life is a grim prospect. Whatever the rest of the episode, that part of it is handled with a deft touch.



If you called out Star Trek, especially TOS, on every instance of dodgy science, you wouldn't have much time to actually enjoy the show. I know that, and I'm not doing that here. All I ask out of the series, or at least a given episode, is consistency. For example, Spock asserts that if matter and antimatter meet, that means total annihilation. But that reaction is what fuels the Enterprise. There's not even a wink or a nod to this.

You can forgive such an obvious oversight, of course, by saying, "That part of the canon hadn't been developed yet." That's fair. But that still doesn't explain the fact that antimatter and matter interact (that being Anti-Lazarus and Lazarus) for multiple, protracted periods of time in this episode. If their meeting constitutes the end of the entire freaking universe, then how in the world are the writers defining "meeting"?

Should have been a much better episode than it ended up being. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What I'm Reading: White Noise

Well, this one is at least a refreshing change from A House for Mr Biswas. More than that I don't feel equipped to say because White Noise reads like one long inside joke, with me far off in the distance. All the positive reviews on the covers describe it as hilarious; I'm not laughing. But maybe it'll all make sense in the end?

The writing is light and easy enough at any rate, and Delillo presents a nice little mystery with the experimental Dylar pills. That much, at least, I can grasp.

Read anything that made you feel stupid lately?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Button and Twine Period

No, that has nothing to do with uterus-related TMI. But I have been going through a button phase recently; if I were an art historian studying myself, I would call the work I've done lately a product of my "button and twine period." You know, like Picasso's Blue Period?

Anyway, I like the fun and casual look of these pieces, especially the multistrand ones, but they are a little too DIY/"I could make that so why should I buy it from you?" for me to list in the shop. But then again, I feel that way about almost everything I make because bead-stringing is the easiest thing in the world. (And the most expensive once you get hooked on the good stuff. Oy!)

All of the above are pi, of course. My go-to ~experimental number. (If you're confused by what I mean by saying these bracelets are pi, here's a little background.)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: New Year's Fandom Resolutions

I'm not much of a New Year's resolutions person, even though New Year's is one of my favorite holidays. I like its secularism and its universality—almost every culture celebrates the end of one year and the beginning of the next, no matter what season the year begins and ends in. Resolutions seem like a way to set yourself up to fail, especially the way that most people use them. But between 101 in 1001 and my penchant for lists, it's not hard for me to come up with a few things I'd like to improve or accomplish in 2015. I think they're all pretty achievable!

1. Get caught up on my Wonder Woman lore.

I've never been a fan of superhero comics, at least in the more or less "traditional" style of comics from the Golden through Bronze ages. My favorite superhero treatments usually have some kind of twist to them, whether it's the straightforward "what if" scenario of Red Son, or the crazy mindfuck that is Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol. But with a proper Wonder Woman movie coming out in 2017, I need to get ready! Because there is no question for me: I have to see a Wonder Woman movie on opening day.

2. Learn and master one new jewelry skill.

Jewelry is my original fandom, y'all, and there's no way around it. I'm thinking about seeing what I can do with hemp twine. It doesn't require any extra space or equipment like some of my other jewelry goals do, plus I have a crapload of hemp (though not too many beads that fit it). I think there are a couple ways of incorporating numbers into hemp work, too. 

I'm worried about how marketable this particular "look" is, especially with the sort of crowd that would be interested in math jewelry, but you never know until you try, right?

3. Photograph at least half of my backlog. 

No brainer. This might get easier, though, as one of my friends here in Stockholm is a photographer and I wouldn't mind working out a deal to outsource that responsibility because I HATE PHOTOGRAPHING MY WORK.

4. Finish Papers, Please

Self explanatory. But it can take me a long time to finish a game, especially if I like it. It sounds counterintuitive, but the reality is I just don't want the experience to end! Although in the case of Papers, Please, it's also a question of the game not always being a pleasant experience.

5. Finish Ni no Kuni

I've finished the story months ago, but I still have a long way to go towards 100% completion. And I'm nothing if not a completionist.

Do you make resolutions? Why or why not? If you do, do you mind sharing yours?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

No Trek Thursday today, being that it's New Year's Day and all. JV and I rang in the new year with The Big Lebowski, fireworks, and The Three Amigos. It was low-key and fun, and I hope you all enjoyed your festivities as much as we did! Here's a picture of The Great Wave off Kanagawa for no reason at all except that I'd love to have a dress with this print: